The Free Chat Plugin for WordPress: Get to Know Your Users

The Free Chat Plugin for WordPress: Get to Know Your Users

Adding live chat to your site is not only convenient for your users, but can also help cut down on support expenses, increase sales and give you the edge over your competition.

And with our free Chat plugin – available to download from the WordPress Plugin Directory – it only takes a few minutes to set up real-time chat on your site.

Not convinced you need live chat? We’ve got the stats to prove it: According to Kissmetrics, many customers want help from a live person while shopping online, and “44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a Web site can offer.”

Add to that an emarketer.com survey that found 63% were more likely to return to a website that offered live chat.

Offering live chat on your site doesn’t have to be a complicated affair. In fact, our Chat plugin takes no time at all to set up. Plus, it’s available as both a free and premium plugin so you can choose which features you need.

In this post, we’ll show you how simple it is to set up the free version of Chat, as well as cover some possible use cases.

Let’s start with some background information.

Introducing the Chat Plugin

If you’re an existing member of WPMU DEV, you can install the premium version of Chat with a single click via your WPMU DEV Dashboard (slick, eh?) or by using the regular WordPress plugin installer.

But we’ll be focusing on the free version, which you can download at WordPress.org. Obviously, anything you can do in the free version is also possible in the commercial version (which offers even more awesome functionality, natch).

Chat enables you to include a number of different types of chat instances on your site:

  • Corner chat: A pop-up chat window anchored to a corner of your page that persists across multiple pages – fantastic for customer support.
  • In page/post chat: Individual chat rooms that can be embedded as shortcodes wherever you need.
  • Chat widgets: Activate chat boxes on any sidebar of your site – a premium option.
  • BuddyPress Group chats: Another premium option that allows you to integrate individually configurable chat rooms for each group.

The free version of the plugin has over 4,000 active installs and consistently positive reviews. It plays nicely with the vast majority of themes and grants you fine-grained control over the following options:

  • Sounds to be used
  • Emoticons
  • Date and time settings
  • Chat box size
  • Typographic options
  • Offering guest use or members-only chat
Corner chat in action.
Corner chat in action.

The premium version offers a range of additional functionality including advanced color control, the creation of Chat logs, chat boxes on the backend, social network integration, advanced moderation features and more.

You’ve got the option of upgrading seamlessly to the paid version at any time.

Let’s briefly cover some use cases where Chat really shines.

Using WordPress Chat to Deliver Value to Users: Chat can be employed in all manner of ways on sites of various sizes, but there are a few standard use cases that stand out:

Lifting Your Community Site to the Next Level: Chat is fully compatible with BuddyPress (particularly with the advanced integration available in the paid version) so it’s a perfect solution for community discussions. Real-time chat increases overall interaction on your site and is a great way of encouraging engagement and developing a strong community, whatever the subject matter of your site happens to be.

Offering In-Context Training: If you’re offering online training of any type, in-page chat is a great way of being able to help users out at the exact points where they’re running into difficulty.

Client Communication: If you’re in services and dealing with clients who want real-time discussion groups (public or private), Chat is an excellent simple alternative to something like Slack and can be integrated on either your website or that of the client.

Pre-sales and Customer Service: Giving users a way of interacting with you directly comes into its own in the context of both pre-sales inquiries and ongoing customer support. Chat gives you both options out of the box without having to sign up to expensive third-party services with recurring billing.

So, we’ve introduced the plugin and considered just a few of the many incredibly handy ways you could put it to use. Let’s now look at actually getting up and running with Chat.

Installing Chat

Installing Chat is a piece of cake.

Free WPMU DEV Chat plugin
The free Chat plugin in the admin.

With the free version, it’s simply a matter of searching for “chat” from Plugins > Add New in the backend of your site. Alternatively you can download the plugin directly from WordPress.org.

You can activate the plugin per site or from Network Admin if you’re running a Multisite or BuddyPress install.

 

Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that adding Chat is an inherently resource intensive affair.

At a minimum, you’ll want to increase your memory allocation in WordPress – 256M should be more than enough.

If you’re handling a lot of simultaneous chat connections, you may also notice things starting to slow down if you’re on shared hosting. Check out our hosting guide or check with your provider if you run into difficulties here. It’s not the plugin – promise!

Configuring Basic Settings

Chat Settings Menu
In the free version, Chat will appear as an addition to your Settings tab. The paid version has its own standalone menu.

Once you’ve activated the plugin, you’ll notice that a new menu option has appeared.

In the premium version, Chat has a standalone menu so that all its settings can be organized.

In the free version of Chat, you’ll see a new option under Settings > Chat.

The first thing you’ll notice here is that a number of options are grayed out in the free version. You’re essentially limited to two tabs: In post chat options and Bottom corner chat. Again, you have the option of upgrading from within the admin at any time.

Let’s look at the two main options in a little more detail.

In-Post Chat Options

As you can see from the screenshot below, the standard options for in-post settings are fairly self-explanatory and mostly revolve around display choices. Fine-grained color control is limited to the premium version.

Chat general in-post options
General settings for in-post chat options.

Moving down the page a little, you’ll come across the chat authentication options. With the free version you’re limited to the current user, network/site users or public users as options.

Chat authentication options
Free Chat authentication options.

The premium version enables you to let users authenticate via Twitter and Facebook. In the free version, choosing “Public user” as an option will prompt guests to enter a username before they can use the chat.

That’s about it in terms of the settings available for in-post chat. Your next decision is where to deploy this option.

Using In-Post Chat

Adding an individual chat box to a post or page couldn’t be simpler. Once you’re into your content, you’ll notice a new addition on the standard WordPress toolbar.

Add chat menu option
Adding chat via the editor.

Clicking on that icon kicks you into settings you can apply to your particular chat box. As with the general settings from earlier, you’ll notice several options are grayed out here in the free version:

Insert chat dialog
The standard insert chat dialog.

This will insert a shortcode on your post or page with the relevant settings. It’s possible to show the same chat room in multiple places if you want. Just copy the shortcode with the room ID and it’ll show up in any location you care to place it.

Popping into the live version of the post after we’ve done that will show how it might look on your site. In this instance, I’ve kicked things off as the admin with a welcome message and there is a prompt below for a non-logged in user to register before chatting:

We've included a widget with Chat, which you can embed anywhere on your site.
We’ve included a widget with Chat, which you can embed anywhere on your site.

And that’s how simple adding chat to a page or post is. Let’s look at our second main option now.

Bottom Corner Chat

The options for Bottom corner chat in the admin are pretty much identical to those of in-post chat. The only real difference is that you are either switching it on or off globally rather than embedding in particular pages.

Bottom corner chat settings
Bottom corner chat settings for Chat.

Having the option to simply switch this on and off in the backend gives you an easy way of making sure it only appears when you actually have resources available to respond.

With the option switched on, you’ll see the chat prompt appear in the bottom right corner of the screen on your live site:

Corner chat option
Corner chat prompt on the live site.

Click on the button and your chat window will pop into view ready to be used:

Live chat window
Live chat window ready to be used.

With the premium version of the plugin, you can stipulate that logs should be made and kept of chats for future reference. This is very useful for moderation on community sites and other types of follow-up and review when using chat for support.

Upgrading to Premium

The free version provides a great way to start exploring interaction options on both single and Multisite installs. Once you’re ready to kick things up a notch, the premium version is the next logical step.

Premium chat in action.
Premium chat in action.

You’ll benefit from substantially increased flexibility in terms of where you can position chat options, how they appear visually and how much control you have over moderation.

A whole suite of further features such as avatars, social login, chat box position controls and chat logs are also available.

You can find a full list of functionality outlined on the Chat plugin page.

Wrapping Up

Adding live chat to your site is the fastest way to help you help your users. It’s way faster than email, so why make users wait?

Whether you run an online store, a fledgling BuddyPress community or just want a quick and easy way to connect with visitors who land on your site, Chat offers a simple way for you to get chatting in no time.

So what are you waiting for? Download Chat for free and get started using it on your site.

We’re curious to hear if you’ve already started using Chat on your site or if you have any questions about its use. Let us know what you think in the comments below.